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7 Lessons I Learned in My First Year in Business

It has been almost 3 years since I started my website design business. But August 15th, 2015 marked the 1 year of anniversary of when I left my secure day job to pursue my business full time.

At the time I thought I knew a lot about running my business – after all I had been doing it for almost 2 years.

But there is a huge difference between taking the occasional freelance job on the side of a full time job and running a business on your own full time.

So although I am technically in my 3rd year of business, I consider this past year my first real year of being in business. I’ve climbed into the very scary but exhilarating roller coaster of highs and lows that is entrepreneurship.

In my first year, I’ve renamed my business, I’ve shifted direction twice, added and removed services, I’ve fired a client and been fired, all in addition to moving across the country.

Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my first year on the roller coaster:

1. Connect with other entrepreneurs

Friends and family don’t always understand what you do or why you do it. When you tell people you work for yourself or you make money online, a lot of people don’t really get it or even think it’s possible.

I’m sure you’ve dealt with well-meaning people asking you, “so, how is your business doing?” with that half-concerned look as if they expect you to throw your hands up in defeat and go back to your 9-5 any minute.

I just read some advice from Heather Thorkelson saying “don’t listen to anyone that doesn’t understand the slings and arrow of entrepreneurship” and I think that is a good rule to live by in the first year of business. The first year of business is tough and if you can hold on tight and come out alive, I’d say you did pretty well.

You’ll greatly improve your chances of survival in the first year by connecting with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Other entrepreneurs will be able to understand the triumph of landing that big client or successfully launching your new program. They’ll want to celebrate with you and be excited for you.

And they’ll understand the not-so-great moments too. They’ll be able to motivate you when you are having an unproductive day and remind you that the hard work is always worth it in the end.

If your local community doesn’t have any great in-person networking, try joining Facebook Groups. There are a ton of free groups for online entrepreneurs to connect and share advice.

2. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

It can be hard not to take it personally when a potential client hires someone else, or even when someone unsubscribes from your email list. Because you are your business, negative feedback can hit you a little harder.

But the reverse is true as well. A very happy client is the best feeling because you know you really helped someone.

Also, don’t get caught up in the comparison game. Comparing yourself to others almost always leads to disappointment. It’s easy to look at other successful online entrepreneurs and feel bad about your own achievements, or lack thereof.

But this comparison is never truly fair because you are only seeing what they choose to display publicly. You don’t see all the struggles and failures they’ve gone through to get where they are. You can’t compare their highlight reel to your business and wonder why it doesn’t match up.

There is room for everyone to succeed and especially in the female entrepreneurial community I feel it is so important for women to support and encourage others in business.

3. There is no “right way” to run your business

There is no map to success or to-do list for running your business. There is no manager to tell you what to do. You’re on your own.

This leads to worry and doubt about if you are on the right path. It makes you frustrated when you have spent time and money on something that didn’t work.

But this also makes the wins that much more exciting.

Ask often for feedback from others. You don’t have coworkers or a boss giving you guidance and setting you straight when you’re on the wrong path.

Get feedback and learn from others, but at the end of the day, you have to follow your gut. Even if this means going against what other people are advising.

Also, don’t be afraid to change direction. Business is just one big experiment and if something is not working for you, adjust your sails and try a new course. 

I think sometimes as entrepreneurs we feel too invested in a part of our business and can be afraid to change things up. But the great thing about being in business for yourself is that you are small and flexible and you can change and adapt as needed.

I was really afraid to remove my social media services from my site for fear of losing out on potential clients. Once I did, however, I immediately knew it was the right decision and felt massive relief and clarity in my business.

4. You are Your Business

In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In she talks about bringing your whole self with you to work. You’re not two people – a “professional” version that goes to work and then the real you at home. Your work affects your personal life and vice versa so we should not have to pretend otherwise.

Bringing your whole self to your business is your best business advantage and what makes you unique from your competitors. If you try to change yourself or present a version of yourself that you think others want to see, you will feel inauthentic and can easily lose your passion.

For a long time my blog was very informational and “how-to” and I thought that people just wanted the facts and the info. While it’s true that people may come for the info, that won’t make them come back again.

Personal connection is what will bring people back again and again and make them remember you and want to work with you. We are human and we are intrigued and inspired by personality. You will build a much more loyal and dedicated following if you let your audience get to know you a little bit.

5. Skill is not everything

In my first 2 years, I spent a TON of money on training and educational resources learning how to be a better web developer. My motto was “be better than yesterday” and I thought that I would be a success as long as my websites were always advancing and getting better and better.

I do think that this was a good foundation to build my business on, as after all, you can’t be a web developer without knowing how to make great websites, but I completely ignored any other kind of learning.

There are so many other parts of a business that are important to work on too including project management, customer service, client processes, work/life balance, and also mindset.

Entrepreneurs have to wear many hats and learn so many different skills. Just being good at what you do is not enough to make it in business on your own.

6. Don’t be afraid to say no

When you first get started you can’t always turn down work. If you haven’t saved up a ton before going on your own, the cash flow (or lack thereof) can control your decisions for the first while.

It can be really stressful not knowing when your next paycheck will come or if you are going to have clients next month.

But at some point, you have to decide to turn down work that isn’t along the lines of what you are passionate about.

Saying no is really important in order to move your business in the direction you want to go. If you take on just any work just because it pays, then you’ll end up unhappy with the work you’re doing. And if you’re unhappy working for yourself, you might as well just get a full time job working for someone else.

Firing my first client was really tough for me, but after that I realized how much better it feels to work only on projects that I enjoy, and with clients that value and respect me.

In the past year I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing what kind of clients I work well with, and what kind of projects I am excited and passionate about.

7. Self-care is super important

A lot of entrepreneurs glorify the “hustle” and working long hours into the night 7 days a week. I don’t buy into that. I think that you can do your best work when you are relaxed, refreshed, and in good health. 

I  still work more than 40 hours a week and I do work every day of the week. But a lot of my tasks don’t feel like work and I never feel like I am overworked.

Contrary to the developer stereotype of staying up late programming, I usually go to bed at a decent hour. I wake up at the same time everyday and I always eat a healthy breakfast and take at least a half hour to exercise.

I find that when I feel good, I am much more motivated to get to work and can think more clearly. Like I said, you are your business, so taking care of yourself will affect your business positively too.

Having a hobby unrelated your business helps too.

When I first left my day job, I was so excited to have so much more time to work on my business. After all, think of all the extra things I could accomplish with an extra 40 hours working on my business! But I soon realized that you can’t just do the same thing all the time. It leads to burnout.

If I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated in my work, usually a few hours doing something else is all I need. This can be reading, painting, taking a bath, or even cleaning.

You don’t have to overwork yourself to the point of burnout to be successful. Relax, and do what you love. Isn’t that why you started your business?

What lessons have you learned in your business? Did any of these resonate with you?

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